I'm off to Kazakhstan on Tuesday. I've always wanted to start a column by saying that. Now I have. For fun and subtle hothousing, I play the world-capitals game with my daughter. We're both now pretty good – the only two areas that we stumble on are the more obscure parts of Africa and the "Stans," by which I mean most of Central Asia.
Most people know of the "Stans" only by their reputations. Which is the one where they boil people in oil? Uzbekistan. Which one has a leader who changed the names of the days of the week to those of his children? Turkmenistan. Which one do you not know anything about at all? Umm, well, most of them. Although not a "Stan," Armenia is another place I've always wanted to visit. It's in that part of the world and has a dispute with Azerbaijan, so it does count.
There are two reasons why I've always wanted to go there, the first being sausages. Growing up in Lebanon, I used to always have these really delicious spicy sausages known as bastourma, and they were from Armenia. Now I know nothing of Armenian cuisine, but if their sausages are anything to go by then it promises much epicurean happiness.
My second reason for wanting to visit Armenia is Noah's Ark. Even if they're almost certainly complete bunkum, I love historical mysteries. Mount Ararat lies on the border between Armenia and Turkey. Thanks to a dodgy history between these two countries, it's not the most easily accessible of places. It is, however, the site where Noah and his nautical zoo were supposed to have ended up.
Occasionally, a tantalising satellite photo shows up that hints at things on the mountain that are "ark shaped". I want this to be my next proper adventure. I know I won't find it, but I just really want to tell my kids that dad is off to find Noah's Ark. I'm pretty sure that I need to get funding and set up a whole expedition for this type of venture but people have tried this before and failed. I intend to stage a one-man attempt to find the Ark and, should I find it, drag it all the way back and donate it to the museum in Cirencester. Anyone who wants to donate then please feel free to contact the Indy and hand over a large cheque. Made out to Cash....
I've just checked a map. There are even more "Stans" than I have mentioned, and they don't seem to have any discerning characteristics. Kyrgyzstan... I know nothing about it whatsoever except that it is very hard to spell. Tajikistan? That actually sounds really good. I don't know why, but I have a really good feeling about the place.
Ah. I've just Googled Tajikistan, and it turns out it had a terrible civil war for ages and it's the poorest country in the old Soviet sphere of influence – and that is some achievement. Maybe I'll put that particular trip on the back-burner.
Afghanistan needs no introduction. And there are even possibilities for holidaying. Only last week, a company announced that it was running climbing holidays there. The organisers were all ex-military, which is reassuring, but I'm not one for climbing unless there's an actual Ark at the end. Maybe I could just visit that nine-hole golf course on the outskirts of Kabul that I read about? It was built in the early Seventies and there is still a golf pro listed in the Kabul phone directory. I quite fancy a bit more golf in the Axis of Evil – in the past year I've played a pitch and putt in North Korea and nine holes in Beirut, so why not?
But before all this, I'm off to Almaty. It used to be the capital of Kazakhstan, but they've built a brand-new one. The name? Astana. Perfect.